The Needles

Day 153: Freshwater to Newport England, Tuesday September 19th

Our Airbnb came with an amazing breakfast. We had omelettes and beans, fried tomatoes and toast. Our host served and stuck around to chat while we ate. A couple of the Springer Spaniels hung around too. Before we left we had some fun playing with the dogs.

Taking our host’s advice we rode to Totland Bay on the island’s west coast before leaving the area. We locked up the bikes and walked the path along the shore. It was mostly sunny and we got decent views of the Needles: three chalk islands that rise out of the sea.

Our ride for the day was mostly on the section of the coastal route we rode when we got off the Yarmouth ferry. We did have a nice rail trail for the first couple of miles to Yarmouth that we hadn’t been on yet. Just as we arrived at the edge of Yarmouth and joined the familiar coastal route road, we ran into a couple also out touring on bikes but going in the other direction. We talked for a minute, exchanging tips on what to see and where to ride. They had just visited an alpaca farm, and noted that the animals like to spit. We passed on that one.

With less gear weighing us down, and knowing what was coming, we found the hilly section before Cowes to be much less difficult on our second try. We stopped just before the waterfront ride going into Cowes and had half pints of ale at a pub with a view of the Solent.

After Cowes we were back at the beginning of the Red Squirrel Trail. Again, a very pleasant rail trail ride to Newport where we were reunited with our camping gear. Our host Brenda and her husband helped us get all our stuff upstairs, and there we met the famous Mr. Cleese: a super sweet and handsome feline.

Our room was great and the shower was intense. It was also affordable enough that we felt we could hit a pub for dinner.

At the Hogshead they had a burger and pint deal, and even better, the cask ales were on sale for a festival. We took our time and watched some cricket (and made some progress towards understanding what was going on) and then most of the Leicester City vs Liverpool FC game. Leicester won.

Distance: 35 km


Coastal Route

Day 152: Sandown to Freshwater England, Monday September 18th

I was so happy that Brenda in Newport let us leave some of our heavy stuff behind after seeing what this day had in store for us.

The Coast Route around the Isle of Wight has some hilly sections, and the section we did today had the biggest of all. In fact, we briefly considered going back up the Red Squirrel trail (a flat rail trail) and cutting west on roads through the middle of the island. I’m happy we didn’t.

We started out beside the sea riding on a beautiful flat trail between Sandown and Shanklin.

Then we had to climb up inland, and we got a little turned around. It worked out well though, because we accidently ended up at a grocery store, and we needed lunch supplies anyway.

Next was the Sunshine Trail, another rail trail, and eventually some roads. We saw some more classic cars cruising around.

After a quick lunch stop we tackled the biggest hill, from Niton to way about Blackgang. It turned out to be a long slog, but the gradient wasn’t too steep. We were treated to a nice long descent as a reward as well.

Even better, when we got back close to sea level we found ourselves at the Wight Mouse Inn, where we had half pints of ale in the sunshine.

Deb had a pamphlet on the route, so we knew there was another climb in our near future. We had a good ride on quite farm roads for awhile, then the route dropped us back on the Military Road, which is an A road (busy) close to the coast. We stopped at the Brook Chine to admire the view, and to prepare ourselves mentally for the big, big hills we could see ahead.

We conquered them, no problem, then cruised down into the pretty town of Freshwater. Google had some trouble figuring out where our Airbnb was, but we got that sorted fairly quickly. Our hosts had three English Springer Spaniels, all well-behaved and friendly. It was a really nice place too, with a truly fantastic shower (boiling hot and with enough pressure to strip paint).

We strolled around the neighbourhood, but returned pretty early, worn out.

These plastic balls of greenery (occasionally purple) are very popular in the UK. We saw them everywhere.

Distance: 46 km


Garlic Beer

Day 151: Cowes to Sandown England, Sunday September 17th

Eggs for breakfast!

Cycle route 23 is also called the Red Squirrel Trail, but we didn’t see any. Deb’s theory is that too many people walk their dogs there. It is a very nice rail trail, and we took it from Cowes to Newport in the morning.

We had booked a place in Newport for Tuesday and Wednesday night, and Deb had the brilliant idea to ask if we could leave some gear there, as we were passing through today. Our host, Brenda, and her husband said it would be no problem. We left all our camping stuff, and more. I ended up with nothing except my handlebar bag on the front of my bike, and slightly lighter kitty bins too.

After unloading, we got back on the Red Squirrel Trail. It’s worth mentioning that red squirrels are native to the UK and our North American grey squirrels have invaded and bullied them out of much of their habitat. The Isle of Wight has managed to remain grey squirrel free, and is quite proud of their red squirrel population. Again, we didn’t see any this afternoon.

Another thing they’re proud of is their garlic. We went to a big touristy garlic farm, mostly because we’d heard they made garlic beer (!) and because it was only a short ride off the cycle route. It was an interesting place, with dozens of sauces available to taste, lots of information about garlic (I had no idea how many different varieties there are) and yes, garlic beer. We bought a bottle and Deb picked up some “black garlic” to take home.

We reached Sandown in the mid-afternoon. I expected it to be much like Weymouth: an old-timey English beach resort town. Well, it is and it isn’t. Both Deb and I agreed that Sandown felt like low-rent Weymouth. It was a bit rundown, with many closed shops and hotels. Everything felt just a little shabby. It is a nice beach.

Our Airbnb fit with the feel of the town. It was a big old place that felt like it had been a boarding house. Our host, Ann, had just sold the place and was downsizing. She had two cats, one of which, Sheba, was very affectionate.

The pier is dominated by a huge amusement arcade/casino. Sad people were walking around playing gambling games. There were kids in there too. I find it strange that children are allowed around these things. There were rooms for 18+, because the bets were bigger, but toddlers can waste their money on Star Wars “fruit machines”.

One more stop for a treat. Ah, jam doughnuts, how we will miss you. 50p for five, and no, the ones at home are not as good. Just the fact that we can eat them all the time without gaining weight has made this part of the trip worth it.

The garlic beer was pretty good.

Distance: 27 km


On the Wight Side

Day 149: Brockenhurst to Cowes England, Friday September 15th

We had a chat with Kathryn, our host, in the morning. She was getting ready to take five dogs out for a walk.

Instead of following the (unmarked) national cycle route 2, we decided to head south the 10 km to Lymington, and take that ferry to the Isle of Wight. This meant more riding on the island.

The ride to Lymington wasn’t bad, but the town itself had too many aggressive drivers for me. We went straight to the ferry docks and purchased tickets.

It’s a forty minute crossing, and it was so smooth that we didn’t even have to tie off our bikes. We took seats in the lounge and watched the boats as we crossed the Solent.

There’s going to be  a classic car show on the island, so there were a lot of really cool vehicles with us on the ferry. When we arrived in Yarmouth, we stood with our bikes and watched them all go by, chatting with a ferry worker who turned out to be a big Rush fan.

Yarmouth is a pretty little place. We found a grocers and picked up some lunch.

The coastal cycle route is well marked, and they even have the signs with the colours reversed to show the clockwise vs anticlockwise directions.

It started out fairly easy, and very nice. Quiet roads, countryside, and some views of the water. When we got close to Cowes it started to rain, it became busier, and a lot hillier. It smoothed out at the coast, and we enjoyed the ride into town. To get to our Airbnb we had to go back inland, and steeply uphill, but the shower passed so we didn’t mind doing a little pushing.

We were Janette’s first guests, but she’s a grandmother and a nurse – and so very good at making people comfortable. She and her cute granddaughter Millie gave us the house tour. We were even invited to join her for dinner, and of course we said yes.

Deb and I walked back into town. We bought a bottle of wine and a chocolate cake, and when we came out of the store it was spitting rain. We decided to save exploring for tomorrow.

Janette had made a delicious shepherd’s pie. Home cooked food!



Wild Horses and Snake Catchers

Day 147: Bournemouth to Brockenhurst England, Wednesday September 13th

Once again we had a night where we watched the rain pouring and listened to the wind howling and we wondered what our morning ride would be like. And again, the sun was out when we ate our breakfast. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and when I came out it was raining again. Stas told us we could hang out for as long as we wanted, and we talked bicycles, and about his and Kinga’s future plans. They both work in hospitality, which meant it was fairly easy for them to leave London, where they met, and move to Bournemouth, which suited them better. They hope someday to move to Slovenia, maybe to open a place of their own.

The shower passed, and again Stas was a big help with the bikes and gear.

The start of the ride was all on the beach. This time going with the wind. They only downside was that it was hard work navigating the large drifts of sand. We weren’t in a hurry, so we didn’t mind.

Eventually we had to push our bikes up a zigzag path to the road up on the cliff. Then, riding through Christchurch, the signs for cycle route 2 simply disappeared. Deb used her phone to get us through the town, and soon we were entering the New Forest. Still no cycle route signs. We stopped for lunch at a memorial dedicated to the New Forest Air Fields, of which there were many, and those who served at, and supported them, during the war.

We didn’t know anything about the forest, so we were pleasantly surprised, and a little confused, when we started seeing cows and horses, apparently wandering around free.

At one point a few horses were blocking the road. We stopped in the middle of them, and when one approached me I gave it a pat. Then it sniffed at my bins and gave one a nibble. I shooed it back, laughing, then turned in time to see another horse snag Debbie’s bottle of suntan lotion right out of a side pocket on her pannier. Deb reacted quickly, and they entered a little tug-o-war. Deb won, but the bottle had some teeth marks. Undaunted, the horse immediately marched around to the front of Deb’s bike and started investigating her handlebar bag. Things were getting out of hand, and I was close to collapsing with laughter. Nimbly, Deb navigated her way around a couple of the curious equines, and we escaped.

The paths through the New Forest were all nice: quiet roads, rail trails, and gravel tracks. We saw cows blocking roads, and a lot more horses.

Our Airbnb was in Brockenhurst, in the middle of the Forest. It was called Cornucopia, and Kathryn, our host was ex-navy, and a dog trainer. She really helped us with our plans, as she’s an expert on the New Forest. She also gave us a good rundown on the local pubs and shops.

We explored the town, stopping at The Snakecatcher pub. The best thing about this place is the story behind its name. Harry “Brusher” Mills lived in a self-made hut in the New Forest for years. He caught grass snakes, and sometimes adders using only a forked stick and sold them to visitors, research centres and zoos. He died in an outbuilding of the inn, which was eventually renamed to honour him.

We ate a simple dinner in our room, and watched a terrible horror movie.

Distance: 31 km


Tanks for the Memories

Day 145: Crossways to Bournemouth England, Monday September 11th

It was a windy, rainy night. The kind of night where Deb and I repeatedly look at each other and say, I’m so glad we’re not in the tent. We did not have high hopes for the morning.

But, when we got up the sun was out. A shower went through before we were ready to load the bikes, but in general it was a much better day than we expected. It didn’t take long to find our way back to cycle route 2.

There was a lot of traffic from a big music festival that had just ended, “Bestival”. It was a huge event, apparently. The line up of acts was crazy long.

Note the small white square with the big red L on the front right bumper (?). That means Learner.

I had wondered aloud whether or not we would meet any more cycle tourists. I thought it unlikely, and felt that was kind of sad. And then, this morning, we met a couple loaded down with luggage in the Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve. We were at a gate, already stopped when they rolled up. We talked for a few minutes. The guy took pictures of me with the Kitty Bins, and he asked a lot of questions about them. They were just a few days into a three week tour. They also told us there was another touring couple somewhere behind them.

Sure enough, we stopped on a narrow, muddy cycle track to chat with an older couple from Frankfurt and they were on a circular tour: heading for Plymouth, then France, and riding home to Germany. The question we didn’t ask them was, “How do you ride in sandals when there’s stinging nettle all over the place?” I was happy to have one last opportunity to say, “Gute fahrt!”

We reached the Shell Bay to Sandbanks ferry with just minutes to spare (although we only would’ve had to wait twenty minutes for the next one). It was good timing especially because it was starting to rain, and after we boarded and got under cover it really started to pour. It’s a short crossing, but the shower had passed by the time we had reached Poole.

The route to Bournemouth stuck close to the water for awhile, and we saw a lot of people windsurfing. Then the route curved east and hit the beach. In July and August you can’t ride on the beachside path during the day. Yay for offseason travel. We had seven kilometres next to the sea before we had to turn into the city. We went right along one of Bournemouth’s central parks, then climbed (pushed) past the Hilton and found Stas and Kinga’s apartment.

Stas, a Slovenian, was a huge help. He carried Deb’s bike upstairs to their flat, and came back for bags too. He even offered to make us a sandwich. We met their dog, an adorable Schnauzer, then got cleaned up.

It was sunny, so we walked through the parks which are very nice. We found a Tesco, bought supplies, and made dinner at the Airbnb. We played with the dog a bit and he fell asleep under my chair.

Distance: 45 km


Feeling Sheepish

Day 144: Weymouth to Crossways England, Sunday September 10th

Carmen had no problem with us leaving late, so we didn’t get on the road until about 11 am. We were expecting the hill between us and Dorchester to be challenging, but it turned out to be gradual enough, and short enough, that we were looking down on Dorchester in no time. The descent was long and fast and soon we were back at the busy roundabout. Once we’d safely navigated that we stopped at a huge Tesco.

We left cycle route 26 and got on route 2 heading east. The ride through the edge of Dorchester was nice, and soon we were on quiet country roads.

It started to rain as we neared our Airbnb. We sheltered under a tree through the worst of it. We were very happy that we were heading east, as the wind was (finally) at our backs.

Our place for the night was in Crossways, which is a tiny place and not quite on the route. Brian, a taxi driver who drove a truck in Canada for years, got us set up. He and his partner, Lisa, have a nice new house with a lot of space. Lisa has two rescue sheep as pets, and an adorable labrador named Max who she has trained as a gun dog.

After showering we went out to the local pub. On the way out we met the sheep.

After having a pint at the Frampton Arms, next to the train station, we walked back in the dark. I think it’s only worth mentioning because we’re continually surprised by how early the sun is going down now. Compared to Scandinavia in June I guess all days are bound to seem short.

Distance: 22 km


Channel Surfing

Day 141: Dorchester to Weymouth England, Thursday September 7th

We had a very short ride to do and we couldn’t check in at Weymouth until 3 pm. Our host graciously allowed us to leave late, so Deb and I went for another walk around Poundbury.

Getting out of Dorchester was fairly simple and we found the cycle route quickly. It was a nice new separated cycle path, but it stuck pretty close to a busy highway. Right after leaving town we had to navigate a crazy roundabout, but after that, we were totally clear of the traffic.

It was a long, gradual climb away from Dorchester and we stopped to catch our breath admire the view. Eventually we could see the English Channel.

It was a nice downhill cruise to Weymouth and we arrived with some time to spare. Luckily there was a Morrison’s grocery store on the route. We took our time and picked up some lunch which we at on a bench outside.

Carmine, our host met us at her building’s door and helped us get the bikes into a garden shed. She was funny and friendly and her apartment was big and wonderfully decorated in a colourful, kitschy style. We loved it.

The forecast for Friday was not good, so we got out to see the town while the sun was out. Weymouth is a beach resort town with an old-timey feel. We walked along the beach, admiring the classic little hotels and amusement arcades.

The sand here is famously fine, which apparently makes it great for sand sculptures. We checked out a display of some examples of this art. After watching the old lift bridge in action we made our way back to Carmine’s place. We beat the rain back and had dinner with a box of wine.

Distance: 12 km


Prince Charles Town

Day 139: Yeovil to Dorchester England, Tuesday September 5th

We heard our host leave, and when we went downstairs we found Owen and Woody in front of the TV again. Woody was playing Grand Theft Auto 5 (did I mention that he’s about five years old?). He said, It’s got naughty words.

We loaded the bikes and got out of there.

It was easy to get back onto route 26, but there were several pretty steep climbs. Winded, and with the rain just starting, we took refuge in an Inn, the Helyar Arms, sharing a pot of tea.

When the rain eased, we continued. We stopped at the sign for Halstock when we saw that it had a drawing of a woman cradling her severed head in her arms. Deb bought some stamps at the village post office and when we continued we saw a hotel with the same disturbing image as their logo: the “Quiet Woman House”. I Googled it, and it turns out to be a pretty good ghost story: nasty stepmom is jealous of pretty, pious girl; makes it look like the girl had a baby and fed it to the wolves to horrify her son who then lops of the girl’s head with a sword; girl’s body reanimates, picks up the head and carries it to the church; ghost returns every All-Saints day to repeat the head-carry walk. Juthware, the girl, lived in Halstock in the 7th century, and they made her a saint.

We had a long but gradual climb after Halstock. It was fairly rainy all the rest of the day, but never too bad, but it did mean that some of the rougher tracks were a little rougher than usual.

Dorchester is one of those towns where Sustrans just couldn’t find a good place to put a cycle route, so the 26 ends at one end of town, and starts again on the other side. We walked our bikes up the sidewalk next to the A road into the city, did some food shopping, and then rode into Poundbury, the strange little neighbourhood where we had booked an Airbnb.

Many of Poundbury’s buildings looked old, and it seems like a cottagey community on the edge of the city. We walked around after dropping off our bikes and gear, and we couldn’t help but notice that the place felt a little Disney. There was no rust on the fences, no graffiti, and a weird homogeneity to all the structures.

We discovered later that the whole place is new, and all designed by one Luxembourgian architect, Leon Krier, according to principles set down by Prince Charles. It has no zoning, is carbon-neutral, pedestrian friendly, 40% social housing, and much higher density than typical post-war suburbs. We liked it, despite (or because of ) the weirdness. It’s also working, because it’s growing rapidly, and our host told us the prices had climbed very high.

Distance: 40 km


From Camelot to Chaos

Day 138: Glastonbury to Yeovil England, Monday September 4th

Our host, Judith, was not impressed with our next destination: Yeovil. I did some research and found little of interest there, but we just couldn’t find accommodations anywhere else on cycle route 26. The Airbnb we booked was cheap, and although the reviews raised some red flags for us, we were only going for one night.

We rode on a really quiet and flat country road with views of the Tor. There were many caravans parked here and there on the road, and they looked fairly permanent.

It was a bit cloudy, but it didn’t rain. At one point we stopped at a nice place called the Camelot Inn (due to its proximity to Cadbury Castle, which has been associated with King Arthur’s legendary court).

It got hillier, but not too bad, and eventually we rode into Sherborne. Here we stopped at the White Hart. Deb found a new paperback for a pound.

Getting into Yeovil meant leaving the cycle route here. The last stretch was hilly, some of it pretty steep, and it culminated on a very busy A- road. After speeding down that to the edge of town, we just got on the sidewalk and pushed the bikes for a couple of blocks, for there was just too much traffic.

The Airbnb was essentially hosted by a kid named Owen who couldn’t have been much more than ten years old. He was caring for his little brother, Woody (perhaps five?), and three dogs (one reviewer had noted the dog smell of the house, and they were spot on). Owen was polite and helpful, even as his underpants-clad brother rolled around on the floor wrapped in a duvet making happy but very loud noises. Cartoons blared from the TV.

The room itself was an oasis in a madhouse. We could hear the shouting and barking continue until the evening, but we had a big, comfy couch and very good WiFi. I couldn’t get the Amazon TV to work, but I didn’t bother to ask poor little Owen for help.

Our actual host came home from work about 9 p.m. We went down with our dishes (there was no dining room, or kitchen table – we ate in our room but it appeared that the family always ate from their laps in front of the TV). She said hello, but there was no exchange of introductions. She seemed very busy, and not at all interested in us. It was very awkward, and we retreated to our room.

Distance: 48 km